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October 6, 2010 / Malcolm Dalebö

History of Flageolet beans

  • The flageolet bean is a type of bean of the species Phaseolus vulgaris which was originally developed in France in the 1800s under the varietal name of “Nain hâtif de Laon” , meaning ‘Laon Early Dwarf’. 
  • Many dwarf cultivars belonging to this species are known and were formally known in France under the trade name of “flageolets“.
  • Some have white seeds (Flageolet blanc or White Flageolet), some have black seeds (Flageolet noir or Black seeded Flageolet), some have red ones (Flageolet rouge or “Red Kidney”), and some have yellow seeds (Flageolet jaune or Yellow seeded Flageolet). However, the outstanding specimens have green seeds (Flageolet vert). 

History of Flageolet bean – ‘Chevrier vert’

  • The green-seed producing bean is basically a white-seeded type but with the ability to retain chlorophyl much longer than other beans in specific conditions (French technical expression:  “grain blanc à cotylédons chlorophylliens“). 
  • The best varieties are known as Flageolet vert or Green Flageolet
  • It was first obtained by a French grower called Gabriel Chevrier, in Brétigny-sur-Orge, a suburb of Paris, between 1872 and 1878. 
  • 1878 is mostly quoted as the official birth of the ‘Chevrier‘ because it was first commercialised in that year, as the haricot flageolet “Chevrier vert“. 
  • This variety was to become very famous in the top restaurants of Paris and later (a few years later) in all French households. 
  • Today however the Flageolet bean “Chevrier vert”, is an endangered heirloom, including in its birth place of France, where, along with many other thousands of traditional varieties of vegetables, its production is officially “en regression”. 
  • The main reason is that the natural plant is prostrate rather than erect. 
  • The prostrate deportment leads to pods being in contact with the soil and sometimes getting infected with various diseases such as anthracnose.
  • It is difficult to mechanically harvest these prostrate bean plants. 
  • Very few companies in the world still carry the ‘Chevrier vert’ in stock. 

History of Flageolet bean – Modern varieties

  • From the original, many modern varieties have been developed which are today protected under law and as such cannot be legally reproduced commercially. 
  • They are still open pollinated varieties but some resistance has been bred into them. 
  • Anthracnose is one of the deadly diseases that they are now all resistant to. 
  • Some are also resistant to some viruses, some to the Mosaic virus etc. 
  • The intensity of the seeds’ green colour varies from cultivar to cultivar, so do the size and shape of the seeds and the number of seeds per pod, this latter characteristic seems rather unstable.  
  • Most importantly, the taste appears to be rather stable among all the different new cultivars. 
  • This century has seen a resurgence of interest and many new varieties. In France alone for example, according to the National  Institute of Agronomic Research  (INRA),  the production of flageolets has steadily increased  from 31.049 tons in 2000  to 36.332 tons in 2002. 
  • The flageolet has been submitted for entry into the “Label Rouge“, reminiscent of the “Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée” applied to French wines,  to protect against the growing competitive production in non-EU countries of what is often inferior quality produce.

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